It has been a cause for concern for quite some time that the proportion of S&T news and analysis in the Indian media is abysmal. There are also concerns relating to the quality and effectiveness of the S&T coverage. The CSIR-National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (CSIR-NISCAIR), therefore, organized a Workshop for “Training Journalists in S&T Reporting” during 1-3 September 2015.
The Workshop, which was attended by 18 journalists, sought to facilitate their interaction with some of the most eminent scientists and scientist administrators of the country, expose them to prominent scientific projects and impart to them reporting skills which would be helpful in effective communication of scientific developments in the country. The Workshop was supported by the National Council of Science & Technology Communication (NCSTC), Department of Science & Technology, Government of India.
At the Inaugural Function of the Workshop, Ms Deeksha Bist, Acting Director, CSIR-NISCAIR briefly enumerated some of the major activities of CSIR-NISCAIR that has been engaged in science communication for the past almost 63 years. Today, NISCAIR is the largest institute in the country engaged in science communication and dissemination of scientific information. It has carved out a niche for itself by becoming the only Institute in the country that publishes 17 peer-reviewed research journals and three popular science magazines – Vigyan Pragati in Hindi, Science Reporter in English, and Science-ki-Duniya in Urdu.
In his Keynote Address, Dr. B.P. Singh, Head, National Council of Science & Technology Communication (NSCTC), Department of Science & Technology, Government of India emphasized that we should be proud of belonging to a country that has a profound democratic system. But the question is whether the media is playing its role of buttressing the democratic traditions of the country. He said that the press had a responsibility towards the people of the country. We need to have a well-educated, fully informed citizenry in the country, he said.
The Workshop exposed the journalists to some of the major scientific projects in the country. While Dr. B.P. Singh, Head, NCSTC enumerated the role of the Department of Science & Technology in executing national science projects and introducing schemes to enhance scientific human resource capability in the country, Dr. Viswajanani Sattigeri, Senior Principal Scientist, Planning & Performance Division, CSIR recounted several achievements and successes of the CSIR laboratories in keeping with the demands of time.
In his lecture, NPL – Timekeeper of the Nation, Dr. Amitabh Sen Gupta, Former Acting Director, CSIR-National Physical Laboratory informed the journalists that CSIR-NPL is responsible for the highest level of time and frequency measurements in India and maintains the Indian Standard Time (IST). In his very interesting presentation Dr. Sen Gupta talked about the highly intricate and sophisticated mechanism by which the time-keeping responsibility is discharged by NPL.
Mr Pallava Bagla, Science Editor, NDTV in his lecture Fun & Joy of Reporting on Mangalyaan, recounted his experiences with reporting on the Mangalyaan where he could get extremely close to the spacecraft and actually touched it. He said that journalists need to develop a certain amount of trust with project leaders and mission commanders to be able to get information that would help the journalist turn out a meaningful report. Mr Pallava also asked the journalists to ask questions – sometimes the most simple of questions unravel the most compelling of information.
In a presentation on Indian Initiatives in Nano Science & Technology, Dr. Praveer Asthana, Head, Nano Mission, Department of Science & Technology informed that India began its foray into the world of nanotechnology in October 2001, and today after 14 years stands third after China and the US in terms of research publications being published in the field – nearly 2,000 researchers had so far published around 5,000 research papers from India. The Centre has invested Rs 3,000 crore in 15 years on nanotechnology, which is nearly one-fifth of the funds spent by the US and China. However, nanotechnology products may be potential Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) hazards precisely because of the same reasons that make them useful. Hence, regulatory safeguards needed to be formulated but these will emerge as science progresses in this field.
Mr Ashok Malik, Former Assistant Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh in his presentation on Science Reporting gave several tips to the participants on how to keep abreast of S&T developments. He emphasized the need for developing contacts and networking with scientific institutes for breakthrough developments and with scientists for clarification of scientific concepts, inventions and ideas. He listed out several social media avenues such as Twitter, FaceBook and Blogs through which journalists could stay in touch with scientific developments and also follow scientists.
Two interactions were also arranged with Dr. K. VijayRaghavan, Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology, and Dr. Rajesh Gokhale, Director, CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology.
Dr. K. VijayRaghavan said that science reporting in the media is mainly restricted to new developments and that too is much hyped, almost bordering on science gossip, reflecting the poor communication between scientists and journalists. He called upon the journalists to work hard to understand the science better. He said there is enough exciting work in science going on in the country. Journalists need to work out a way of making science a community venture. He wondered whether a mechanism could be set up to encourage regular and fruitful interactions between the media and scientists, something on the lines of a Science Media Centre. This could help create a global marketplace for Indian science, he said.
Dr. Rajesh Gokhale informed that CSIR-IGIB is engaged in research of national importance in the areas of genomics, molecular medicine, bioinformatics, proteomics and environmental biotechnology. In Genomics and Molecular Medicine, the Institute is focusing on neuropsychiatric disorders like Schizophrenia, Cardiovascular diseases, Diabetes and other complex disorders. The Institute also focuses on respiratory diseases Tuberculosis, Asthma and Allergy, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD).
Since the objective of the Workshop was also to expose journalist participants to some of the most premier scientific institutes in the country, two visits were organized – one to the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and the other to the National Institute of Immunology (NII).
The valedictory function of the Workshop was held on 3 September 2015 at the CSIR Science Centre, Lodhi Road. In his welcome address, Dr. Girish Sahni, Director General, CSIR said that journalists play a very important role in communicating, among other things, the cultural and scientific heritage of the country. He called upon the journalists to play a greater role in communicating the scientific and technological developments taking place in the country.
The DG-CSIR also invited the journalists to spend a day in the national laboratories to help them know about the important research and development activities and also suggested that the journalists should interface with younger scientists. The Director General said that CSIR would look into the possibility of developing an institutionalized mechanism for facilitating journalists to visit the labs.
Addressing the workshop participants, Mr. Rajendra Prabhu, Chairman, NUJ (I) School of Journalism and Communication said that many science journalists do not adequately cover major scientific events and developments in the country. He stated that there was a need to strengthen S&T reporting and was hopeful that this workshop on S&T reporting would be the beginning for many such workshops that would bring about meaningful interactions between scientists and journalists.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Honourable Minister of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, who was the Chief Guest of the function, welcomed the gathering and said that having a group of young journalists as participants of this training programme is a very healthy sign.
The Hon’ble Minister said that the science environment in the country is upbeat and is moving forward with positivity. He said that his visits to several CSIR labs were a revelation and that he learnt about the importance and worth of the national laboratories and realized that the general public and more importantly the students were unaware of the many accomplishments of the institutions under the Ministry of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences.
The Minister said that journalists need to be passionate about understanding the scientific activities being carried out in the country and that they have to find out what is happening in Indian science. He exhorted the journalists to visit the national laboratories and interact with the scientific community.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan suggested that a series of such workshops for journalists in S&T reporting should be held in different parts of the country. He also mulled over the possibility of instituting National Fellowships in Science Journalism to honour science journalists who have carried out exemplary reporting of Indian science news and events.
In closing, Mrs. Deeksha Bist, Acting Director, CSIR-NISCAIR proposed the vote of thanks. She said that the objective of organizing this workshop was to bring about a close interaction between our journalist participants and the scientific community, to expose them to some scientific projects and developments taking place in the country and to help our journalist participants develop a wide understanding of science and technology issues in the country.